Shattering the Silence

It has been over three months since the protest began. Three months of standoff with the protesters who would not see another telescope built on Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea Observing
My 18″ telescope Deep violet set up under the stars at the MKVIS.
It has been my habit over the last eight years to spend a night under the stars, high on the mountain, each time the new Moon arrives. On the nights when there is no moonlight the sky is dark, truly dark. The stars shine undiminished, the universe is open to be explored. I have used binoculars, small telescopes, cameras, or simply my eyes.

It is with my handmade 18 inch telescope that I can truly gaze into the depths of space. This simple device of plywood and glass allows me to see galaxies millions of light years into the past. With this telescope I have seen hundreds of galaxies, giving me a glimpse of the indescribable vastness of space.

Often I would set up in the patio right at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station. The first couple hours spent talking with visitors, showing them the wonders our universe has to offer. After the VIS closes the visitors depart, driven back to their hotels by the cold mountain air. I have a heavy winter jacket, ski-pants, a thermos of hot tea, everything I need to be comfortable under the night sky. I would have the rest of the night to myself, just me, the mountain and the stars.

Note: This article was first published on the Civil Beat website on June 26, 2015.

Hours spent wandering from galaxy to cluster to nebulae. When I tire, or the camera is running under computer control I often just lay back and contemplate the sky for hours. Just looking up, it gives one a completely different understanding of the universe. To combine study of the science with simply looking out, it changes you.

Sometimes I do not go to the VIS, I just do not want to deal with the evening crowd. I want only the night. I will set up somewhere nearby, on one of the little side roads. There are places one will not see another human or vehicle light from sunset until dawn invades the sky. These places I usually keep secret, sharing them with no one, they are my places on the mountain.

I realize that I have not gone to the mountain to spend a night since the protests began. In part it is the disruption of the protest camp, their lights and activity in the night have ruined the VIS for proper observing. You need true dark, no white artificial light to allow your eyes to fully adapt to the dark. Only then does the night open up to you.

Even in the isolated places away from the protest camp the peace of the mountain has been shattered. The dissension and animosity has changed this place. Right or wrong I have come to blame the protesters for this. When the protests first arrived I waved as I passed the camp each day, I made occasion to talk. I find I can no longer do that, I resent what they have done to the mountain I have come to love. Many I have met have truly exemplified the Kapu Aloha, but so many do not. Their understandable frustration has fermented into something unsettling.

I will keep the kapu. When I go I try to respect their views, even if I disagree. Still, I wonder when I can again go to the mountain and feel only peace under the stars.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

4 thoughts on “Shattering the Silence”

  1. Andrew – unfortunately your sentiments are shared by many others including myself. Thanks for your brutally honest opinion.


  2. I think that the protestors focus should be on Mana Rd….There are miles and miles, tens of thousands of acres that are being consumed by the Gorse,swallowing what is left of the Koa trees up to elevations where the vegetation thins. ON HAWAIIAN HOMES LAND. That is the true desecration of “their” scared mountain, not the telescopes at the summit which help to further the human race.

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